48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene – Book Review


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Best for:

Those who already have a firm foundation in psychology and their own values, those who like history and stories, those interested in strategy and power. Those who can commit to a longer book.

Difficulty to digest:

Easy, but with the caveat, you should be able to judge the content for yourself.

Key Insights:

The 48 laws of Power is a book about how to obtain power and how to defend yourself against its use. Primarily taking a social and historical perspective, Greene discusses optimizing power at any cost. Each chapter follows a similar pattern, there is a law, as well as sections on observance or transgression of the law, interpretation, keys to power (an explanation) and reversal (how it can backfire).

This book is full of stories from history, which are extremely entertaining in their own right. Greene then connects those stories to his laws of power, explaining how the story ties in, and finally wrapping up with any additional information for the law. Many of the chapters also include warnings at the end about how these activities can backfire and how to use them appropriately.

While it can be difficult to parse through the exact recommendations, as Greene cautions lots of nuances, there are some solid principles in this book. Don’t take everything at face value, however, as these comparisons are drawn using historical references. Some of them are at odds with the current psychological understanding of human nature. Read each law individually, then decide if it’s something that could be useful to you. Just because there’s a viable historical reading doesn’t mean it’s true.

That being said, there are many useful principles about building personal power. Also, the lessons taken from historical knowledge can be useful. The interesting narratives alone make it worth reading. Just be careful with how you use it as it can be difficult to maintain a balance between gaining power, and hurting those around you for no reason. I’d only read this after you’ve read many other resources on human nature, ones with more scientific grounding, and other viewpoints, so you can make your own, informed, decisions.

Other considerations:

This book is long, dense and takes time to get through. Luckily, the modularization makes it easy to pick up and put down at will. Besides the theme of power, each chapter acts as a standalone, making it something you can digest at your own pace. Also, some laws repeat stories making it feel even slower.

The book is geared toward optimizing power, mindfulness of the appropriate situations is required. Many tactics may work for nations or other large organizations but are unrealistic for daily interactions. In addition, Greene frames individuals as inherently stupid, weak, etc. His view of human nature is definitely Hobbesian. Accordingly, many of his recommendations are unnecessarily cruel or ill-intentioned to ward off the base nature of others (an assumption of his).  

Greene frames even pro-social suggestions with deceit, guile, and manipulation. This is unnecessary. We can use many of this tactics effectively without such a negative frame.  I would not recommend this for those who haven’t thought much about morality, or why they would want to gain power in the first place. Personally, it goes against much of the philosophy I’ve developed at HowToHappy and for myself. Power alone is not a stable foundation for happiness.

Realistically, this book is most useful in the realms of competition, strategy, sports, and war. If you look at it with this framing in mind, you’re likely to get the most out of it. If you’re looking to become more influential on a daily basis, it can be useful, but be careful what you take from it. You may find yourself angering others and actually losing power because of the framing of this book.


Applicable Content:

  • Power can come in many forms from many places. This book primarily discusses power socially. In what situations do you feel most powerful?
  • Power without purpose is unlikely to lead to happiness. If you had more power, what would you use it to do?
  • Much of this book is influencing others to give you more power. How can you leverage others to accomplish more?

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